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Paddling to Ninstints Queen Charlottes, August 1998

 

Paddling to Ninstints
Queen Charlottes,
August 1998

 

My fiancé Becky, my son Ian, and Ian’s mom (Belinda), took on the southern part of Parks Canada jewel in the Charlottes, August of 1998. Becky and I paddled a double (Folbot Greenland II), and the other two were in hardshell singles. We traveled from a spot in the middle of Juan Perez Sound to the Skungwai (Anthony Island) vicinity, with water taxi service from Moresby Explorers each way. Thirteen days on the water (with three days lost to weather) might seem like a lot, but we could have spent twice that. As it was, we spent most days moving camp 8 – 15 miles and only made two day-trip forays from fixed camps. Our Zodiac return from Raspberry Cove (the main in/out point for water taxi service) included 2-meter-plus head seas and head winds of over 20 knots, making it the wildest boat ride of my life — and conditions which kept EVERY sea kayaker ashore.

We spent the first two nights in a cramped little cove near Marcos Island, because BOTH of the better drop-off points were occupied with larger groups — enduring an intense little system which tried to drown us out. Thanks to a protecting canopy of cedars, the skills of Tarpman (yours truly), and sturdy rain flies, we stayed fairly dry, attempting to diminish our mound of food to a size that would fit into our yaks. Working our way south the next couple days took us to the middle of Skincuttle Inlet, south of Burnaby Island, and as beautiful an island camp as I’ve ever seen. Bolkus is the former site of a Haida summer village, and one of the locuses legends describe as the point the Haida entered the Islands.

 

The fifth day stressed the two single-yak-paddlers, as we crossed two major point systems, to a picturesque cove at the northern corner of Carpenter Bay, where we caught and ate a good-sized rockfish and a small greenling, enjoying the two streams which drained into the sea UNDER high berms of cobbles. After a rest day at Two Fish Cove (our name), we got a flat-calm, warm, sunny day for the traverse around Benjamin Point, including bear-on-the-beach (we weren’t!) and a fat lingcod on-the-deck as our rewards. Raspberry Cove, across from the well-publicized Guest House at Rose Harbour, was a welcome sight, and deserted!

Day eight we fought a strong head wind, a little head current, and some rough chop down the inlet to a cove on the tip of the (unnamed) peninsula separating Rose Inlet from Louscoone Inlet, making only five miles over three hours of hard work! The single-paddlers collapsed ashore, and we camped three nights there. Later it earned the appellation “Two Otter Cove” for the river otters which occupied it.

 

Fog, light drizzle, and some moderate wind/seas the next day postponed our visit to the totems and house pits at Ninstints until afternoon. The visit was mightily enriched by the presence of Captain Gold, the pre-eminent Haida Watchman, who collared us just before we (innocently) wandered off the trail around a sensitive site. Gold is a fount of information on Ninstints, and a story-teller of the first rank. Concern for the return of the fog sent us back across Louscoone to Two Otter, way before he had exhausted his story trove.

 

It would be difficult to convey the impact of the scene at Ninstints. We had pointed ourselves at the village site for most of two weeks, and came away much awed at its beauty and eeriness. Parks Canada (and the Watchmen) attempt to limit the number of visitors at each village site to something less than a dozen (at any given moment), so as to enhance the quality of the experience. That really worked for us at Ninstints.

Day ten we slept in late, tide-pooled the shore from our yaks (way more impressive than Burnaby Narrows), and visited the Gordon Islands in the afternoon. Very cool lagoon (high tide only) on the NW corner, and a beautiful little gravel/shell beach separating the two islands, with monstrous cliffs surrounding the southerly island. The next day we escaped ahead of a building NW gale back to Raspberry Cove, now occupied by one of the several guided groups we saw, and opted out for a smaller cove three hundred yards east, complete with trawl-web hammock and a rope swing!

 

By afternoon, the buoys to either side of South Moresby were reporting gales of 35 – 40 knots, stimulating a gathering of trollers, sailboats, and pleasure craft at the mooring buoys across Houston Stewart Channel. This pattern persisted for two more days, pinning everyone ashore (or at anchor) except a Coast Guard cutter which steamed impressively through it all and turned up Rose Inlet our last day.

 

The morning of our planned extraction, several of the fishing boats and one cruiser had abandoned the south side of the channel and were trying to keep a hook down in the small lee of our shore. As we stood in awe of the wind, a huge black bear ambled into our cove, ogled us and our seven-grain cereal, and rejected all of the above as food, preferring to hunker down fifty yards away for a diet of crustaceans and sea-lettuce. (We were relieved.)

 

About the time the bear finally moved on to the next cove, Bill, of Moresby

Explorers pushed their largest rigid hull inflatable (a Polaris, I think) to shore, the first small craft we had seen enter the channel in a day and a half! Smiling, Bill asked us if we were ready for a “rough” return, over the worst seas he’d seen in five years of running zodes up and down Moresby. We gulped, “Yes,” and packed our yaks and other gear onto his craft. Two hours and many gallons of seawater in the face later, we entered the calmer “inside” waters of Skincuttle Inlet, as Bill also calmed down and drove the zode with one hand and smoked with the other.

 

The rest of the return was anticlimactic, although Bill managed some major flirting with a saucy lady who had herded a 10-foot way-trashed john boat (complete with 5-horse outboard and boyfriend) halfway down the main island to Hotsprings Island. The lady with the saucy ‘tude was hoping for a haul-out. She must have found a willing troller to do the job, ’cause we saw her and her escort in Queen Charlotte City two days later, trash-boat on her Tercel, waiting for the ferry!

 

It was a great trip. Certainly the paddle of a lifetime, but even more, close to a religious experience for we sea-Druids. Ninstints and its mortuary poles exude an eerie, calming aura that can only be experienced. It is testimony to the many generations of natives who lived and died there, on the edge of the Pacific. We were honored to paddle in their wakes.


Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR


 

Copyright 1998 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally published on Wavelength list server, 1998. Reublished with permission.
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